Escape from the Jail

I went back to San Fran­cis­co in April to play SCRAP’s lat­est escape room, Escape from the Jail, with my usu­al crew plus a few new people.

Escape from the Jail


If you are unfa­mil­iar with SCRAP, they are a great escape game com­pa­ny and claim to have pio­neered the indus­try. I am not sure if that is true, but they were def­i­nite­ly the first I per­son­al­ly had heard of. My first game, The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad, was an excel­lent intro­duc­tion to escape games. Since then, I have played more of SCRAP’s games than any oth­er com­pa­ny’s. They keep things inter­est­ing by hav­ing three dif­fer­ent for­mats of games:

  1. Escape Room” — Your team is any­where from four to twelve play­ers. The team books exclu­sive access to a room for a spe­cif­ic time slot. You tear it apart look­ing for clues to solve puz­zles and “win” by find­ing the key to phys­i­cal­ly get your­selves out of the room.
  2. Escape Game” — Your team is always six play­ers. The team gets one table in a large con­fer­ence room, with any­where from twen­ty to thir­ty oth­er teams also play­ing at the same time. Each team gets a dupli­cate copy of the puz­zles and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly tries to solve them. Tech­ni­cal­ly every team can “win” by putting down the cor­rect “final answer” on your answer sheet.
  3. Escape Park” — Your team can be any num­ber of play­ers. The team runs around a large open area such as a city neigh­bor­hood or sports sta­di­um. Each team gets a dupli­cate copy of the puz­zles and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly tries to solve them. Tech­ni­cal­ly every team can “win” by putting down the cor­rect “final answer” on your answer sheet.

(My names, not theirs.) These dif­fer­ent for­mats allow SCRAP to put unique twists on their games as well as roll out new games much more often than com­pet­ing com­pa­nies that only do “tra­di­tion­al” escape rooms.

Escape from the Jail

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SCRAP’s most recent offer­ing was Escape from the Jail, which is in the “escape room” for­mat. The game is still cur­rent­ly run­ning, so I do not want to give away too much. Obvi­ous­ly, the theme is a prison set­ting. The sto­ry is that we were false­ly accused of a crime and have to escape before we are exe­cut­ed. SCRAP’s observers were described to us as ghosts of past pris­on­ers; I appre­ci­ate that they always have an expla­na­tion of why staff is in the room with you.

Besides the usu­al safe­ty rules (no run­ning, do not touch things marked as not part of the game, etc.), there were a cou­ple of new wrin­kles. First, our team was split in two, and locked into adjoin­ing cells with a sol­id wall in between. One staff mem­ber role-played a prison guard rather than just a silent observ­er. He enforced the prison-spe­cif­ic rules, includ­ing no talk­ing between cells! If you have played any escape games before, you know how vital com­mu­ni­ca­tion with team mem­bers is, so this lim­i­ta­tion made the game very interesting.


The puz­zle for­mat was very sim­i­lar to pre­vi­ous SCRAP games — you solve small­er puz­zles through­out the room and they feed into a “mas­ter puz­zle” cross­word that you have to ref­er­ence over and over. As usu­al, the puz­zles are well designed and fair­ly dif­fi­cult, but can be solved pure­ly through skill and with­out need of out­side knowledge.

Physical Challenges

It is hard to hold this against SCRAP, since it is not real­ly their style to have any phys­i­cal chal­lenges, thought I would like to see more of this type of thing from their escape room sce­nar­ios. I think the most dif­fi­cult thing we had to do was use hand tools to take apart a locked box.


My group of escape artists knows most of the SCRAP staff by name, but they have been hir­ing more and more late­ly. The staffers are this par­tic­u­lar game were all new to us, but they were well trained, and the guard was outstanding.


SCRAP games are always fun to me because their puz­zle design is great brinks­man­ship — we are always around the final puz­zle when time is up! The oth­er impor­tant fac­tor to me is involve­ment — there needs to be enough mate­r­i­al for every team mem­ber to be work­ing on some­thing at a giv­en time. SCRAP usu­al­ly nails this because of their ten­den­cy to reuse puz­zle pieces. Even if there are not enough new puz­zles for mem­bers to work on, some­one can and should be review­ing pre­vi­ous puz­zles to see if they can be applied.

Over­all, it was a great game. And true to team tra­di­tion, we failed with final key in hand, rac­ing for the exit door!

Borrowed Time LA

Anoth­er sug­ges­tion of Siegfried’s from his mag­ic show at the LA Ath­let­ics Club was to check out his friend Helder Guimarães’s show, Bor­rowed Time LA. The show gar­nered some rave reviews, but the lim­it­ed run has end­ed, so I will be post­ing some spoil­ers!

Borrowed Time

Unlike most mag­ic shows, Bor­rowed Time was not set in a the­ater — this was more of a “pop-up” per­for­mance. When you reserve your tick­ets online, you are only told the gen­er­al neigh­bor­hood where the event will be held. The night before, you get a mys­te­ri­ous note giv­ing you the exact address and some help­ful tips regard­ing logistics.

I showed up maybe 15 min­utes ear­ly and park down the street at a free meter, then wan­der on foot to find that the address giv­en is… a lit­tle bode­ga? Con­fused, I ask the shop­keeps for help. They told me that I had the wrong address, I was on East 2nd Street when I want­ed West 2nd Street. I was pret­ty sure I had punched in the address cor­rect­ly into my GPS, but start­ed to dou­ble-check. They asked that since I was already there, maybe I would con­sid­er buy­ing a soda from their bro­ken fridge or tak­ing a pic­ture in their pho­to booth against the back wall to help them out since the store was not doing too well. I oblig­ed, and stepped into the pho­to booth.

Just as the final flash went off, a pan­el on the wall pulled away, and a young man in a tuxedo

Borrowed Time Host

invit­ed me into a hid­den pho­to-pro­cess­ing dark room. He was com­plete­ly mute, but used silent-movie era dia­logue cards to prompt me to turn off my phone and inquire if I would like to check my coat. I com­plied with the request and declined the offer, since I had no coat anyway.

He then walked me back into a cham­ber which is impos­si­ble for me to paint an ade­quate word pic­ture for. If you have been to any Hen­drick­’s Gin events with me, that is what the décor was like… some­thing along the lines of a Vic­to­ri­an muse­um of curiosi­ties set inside of a botan­i­cal gar­den. There was a dis­play case of neat­ly indexed mag­i­cal arti­facts, a pro­jec­tor play­ing a silent sepia-tone film of a masked man explain­ing a card trick, a detailed mod­el train set, a dress­er with hun­dreds of tiny pull-draw­ers, and more.

As I stood there dumb­found­ed, the love­ly (but also mute) host­ess, dressed in very fash­ion­able steam­punk (com­plete with gog­gles!), slipped me a piece of paper with a rid­dle on it. I found out that there were small cards hid­den around the entire room with one word answers, and endeav­ored to find the answer to my par­tic­u­lar rid­dle. I com­pared notes with a few oth­er guests who had arrived before me, and appar­ent­ly we all had dif­fer­ent ques­tions! My sense of won­der grew as I saw more and more detail through­out the room on my quest. When I found what I thought was an appro­pri­ate answer card, I brought it and the ques­tion back to the host­ess, who seemed to be busy writ­ing more at her impromp­tu stand made of stacked steam­er trunks and a hur­ri­cane lamp.

She took my ques­tion and my answer, quick­ly checked for accu­ra­cy, and then filed them away and hand­ed me a new rid­dle. After a few cycles of this, instead of get­ting a new rid­dle, she hand­ed me a tiny wood­en puz­zle box. When I man­aged to solve that, she hand­ed me an old-fash­ioned skele­ton key. I eager­ly looked around the room for an appro­pri­ate lock, but the young host came back and spoke! He ush­ered us through a hid­den door in a wall of plants to a new room with a large round table, and that is where Helder made his appear­ance and the main show began!

Helder Guimarães

I do not want to give away too much about this por­tion of things just in case Helder does this show again in the future, but for me, one of the most mem­o­rable moments was when he asked for an audi­ence mem­ber to let him bor­row a wed­ding ring. A young lady’s hand shot up, and Helder told us how shocked he was because it was always men vol­un­teer­ing, and asked if she want­ed to recon­sid­er. She turned to her hus­band and asked him if it was OK, but the hus­band deferred to her. She hand­ed the ring over to Helder, who prompt­ly put it into a tiny mani­la enve­lope and ran it through a hand-cranked shredder!

The entire show was, to use a term per­haps overused for mag­ic, “mind-blow­ing.” And the pro­duc­tion val­ue was off the charts, as I inad­e­quate­ly tried to con­vey to you here. I would high­ly rec­om­mend Bor­rowed Time or any fol­low-up show by Helder. Oh, and as we left, the shop­keeps gave us our pho­to booth pic­tures as a memen­to of the show.

Borrowed Time Photobooth

CERT Training


After I read Neil Strauss’s Emer­gency, I signed up for NERT (Neigh­bor­hood Emer­gency Response Team) while liv­ing in San Fran­cis­co. As soon as I moved to Los Ange­les, I signed up for the LAFD’s CERT (Com­mu­ni­ty Emer­gency Response Team) pro­gram, which is what Neil actu­al­ly wrote about. CERT has much more his­to­ry to it, because it was the first pro­gram of its kind in the world. Oth­er pro­grams, such as NERT, are based on the LAFD’s CERT, and they con­tin­ue to pilot new aspects that get incor­po­rat­ed into FEMA’s frame­work for oth­er programs.

Every Wednes­day from 2 March to 13 April (so for sev­en weeks), I showed up at my local fire­house after work for a les­son. Obvi­ous­ly there was a good amount of over­lap in mate­r­i­al from the NERT lessons, so I breezed through the lessons. How­ev­er, there are some inter­est­ing differences.

First, on an over­all class­room aspect, I liked that NERT had two fire­fight­ers teach­ing every class. One would take the lead on the day’s les­son, but the oth­er would chime in with addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion or a slight­ly dif­fer­ent expla­na­tion, which I felt made it eas­i­er to absorb. Not to take away from the CERT instruc­tor, whom I liked a lot.

Also, I liked that NERT had more hands-on skills demon­stra­tions. When we learned about putting out fires, the fire­fight­ers took us out­side and lit a diesel fire in a met­al pan for us to prac­tice using an extin­guish­er on. (In CERT, it was an option­al after-class les­son with an elec­tron­ic extin­guish­er and a fire sen­sor.) For the les­son on search and res­cue, we went out­side and prac­ticed crib­bing with 2x4s. Our “final exam” involved doing an sim­u­lat­ed search and res­cue (com­plete with vol­un­teer vic­tims with vary­ing injuries) in a dark­ened the­ater. Both CERT and NERT did do hands-on prac­tice of first aid, though.

And final­ly, in terms of fol­low-up, I think CERT offers more. Besides the Lev­el 1 train­ing I received, there are Lev­el 2 and Lev­el 3 train­ings avail­able. They also have CERT assist the LAFD on a more reg­u­lar basis. I feel like NERT had reg­u­lar NERT drills (which do involve the SFFD to some extent), but not much in the way of live action. Both offer advanced options for HAM radio oper­a­tors in case

Either way, no mat­ter where you live, I high­ly rec­om­mend you sign up for CERT, NERT, or what­ev­er your local equiv­a­lent is. As impressed upon by both of the train­ings I have been to, you deter­mine your own lev­el of involve­ment. If you want to go above and beyond at the time when a dis­as­ter strikes and join up with oth­ers to go on city-wide search and res­cue, that is excel­lent! But even if you do not, this train­ing will give you the knowl­edge and tools you need to help your­self and your loved ones in the more-than-like­ly sce­nario that emer­gency ser­vices can­not reach you.